France wins EU court ruling on ‘split’ Strasbourg session

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In a victory for France, the European Court of Justice today (13 December) struck down the European Parliament's effort to reduce the amount of time spent at its seat in Strasbourg.

The court annulled a Parliament decision in March 2011 to split the October plenary sessions into two parts (25-26 October 2012 and 22-23 October in 2013), in effect reducing the number days spent in Strasbourg by scheduling more sessions in Brussels.

The Luxembourg-based court said in a statement that the actions of MEPs "must be annulled to the extent that they do not provide for 12 periods of monthly plenary part-sessions in Strasbourg in 2012 and 2013."

France had asked the court to intervene and won support from Luxembourg, which hosts the Parliament's administrative offices.

The ruling doesn’t come as a surprise. The court's Advocate General had already issued a preliminary decision striking down the Parliament's decision.

The ruling is expected to unleash a flurry of reactions from MEPs, who voted overwhelmingly in October to prepare a roadmap for ending the Parliament's costly shuttle between its seats in Brussels and Strasbourg.

British Conservative MEPs sent angry e-mails, expressing bitter disappointment over the ruling.

Campaign leader Ashley Fox (European Conservatives and Reformists group, UK), whose own amendment led to the cut in Strasbourg trips for 2012 and 2013, said the ruling was undemocratic and would prove counterproductive. He vowed that the Conservatives' long-term battle would continue to end the wasteful treks to Strasbourg altogether – and would eventually prevail.

“This decision is not unexpected because the court received legal advice along these lines from advocate general earlier this year, but it is still bitterly disappointing.

"Still, this case is no more than a skirmish in our longer-term war to stop the ridiculous two-seat travelling circus altogether. The fight continues and I am sure before long we will succeed,” he said. 

Véronique Mathieu, a French MEP from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), hailed the ruling as a "great victory that reinforces the seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg."

"The artificial splitting of a plenary week was an inefficient subterfuge aimed at circumventing EU treaty rules. The headquarters of the European institutions are determined by the member states and the decision of the Court of Justice of the EU can no longer challenge Strasbourg as the seat of the European Parliament," continued Véronique Mathieu.

The French socialist delegation in the European Parliament also hailed the ruling.

It said the European Parliament was "of free to decide on internal organisation of its work" but that it had to do so while respecting the EU treaties, which clearly state that the seat of the European Parliament is in Strasbourg.

"Mr. Fox and others should ponder the implications of this judgment," The French socialists said in a statement, adding that "the additional sessions [in Brussels] are not justified."

"Opponents of the single seat of the European Parliament…have made our institution waste time and public money," it said. "This agitation should stop now: wanting to be MEP involves moving within the Union and between its various workplaces."

Commenting on the situation, Greens/EFA co-presidents Dany Cohn-Bendit and Rebecca Harms said:

"With the European Parliament set to draft and debate an initiative report on the multi-seat operation, it looks as if the taboo on the issue will finally be ended and the omerta of the two biggest political groups broken. Given the growing sense of frustration among MEPs at being denied a say on their own place of operation, this development will be most welcome. While EU governments retain sole decision-making power, the European Parliament must finally start to apply pressure to ensure action to address the outdated multi-seat operation can no longer be avoided."

Frieda Brepoels from the European Free Alliance (EFA) Group commented: "I'm disappointed but not surprised by today's ruling. We must as MEPs continue opposing this wasteful and unnecessary monthly visit to Strasbourg. I have always said that Strasbourg is a beautiful city which has been a historically important symbol of European peace and reunification. But that alone is no longer reason enough for an entire parliament and its staff to change cities for just three days each month. A constructive alternative option for the Strasbourg region should be investigated."

MEP Jill Evans also from the EFA said: "The European Parliament's moves between Brussels and Strasbourg are financially and environmentally indefensible. Most MEPs do not support this wasteful practice and are demanding the parliament has a single seat. My constituents are horrified to hear about the money wasted in this way. Abolishing the monthly Strasbourg session would save around €180 million per year. It would also significantly reduce our carbon footprint. Estimates have put the environmental impact of the monthly move at around 19,000 tonnes of CO2 per year. We must have an alternative. We will keep campaigning until this pointless practice ends."

French President François Hollande welcomed the court ruling in a statement

"This ruling reflects the commitment of Europe to respect treaties on the seat of
institutions and its desire to see Strasbourg, a city symbol of reconciliation in Europe,
fulfill its role as a parliamentary capital."

Under a decision taken in 1992 at an Edinburgh EU summit, Strasbourg is an official seat of the European Parliament - 12 four-day plenary sessions per year must take place there, in addition to the meetings held in Brussels.

Any decision to change this would require an amendment to the EU Treaties, a process which requires unanimity among EU member states. The European Parliament has a third seat in Luxembourg, where its administrative offices are located. The EU assembly held a few plenary sessions in Luxembourg between 1967 and 1981.

Critics say the Parliament's 'travelling circus' costs taxpayers an estimated €180 million per year.

A petition launched in May 2006 was handed to the European Commission on 21 September that year by a group of parliamentarians led by Cecilia Malmström, at the time Swedish EU Affairs Minister, in her former capacity as an MEP.

It reached the symbolic one-million signature mark in November 2006, while the website of the 'One Seat' campaign has recorded over 1.2 million signatures.

European Parliament

European Court of Justice

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